Here’s what you need to know about ticks on cats. We’ll cover what they are, how to spot them, any potential health risks, and then how to remove a tick from a cat.
It's really important you know how to find a tick and how to remove them safely. Unfortunately, ticks can lead to some very serious bacterial infections. Although these are treatable, they can have long term effects on your cat's health and are best avoided.
That's why it's worth taking some preventive measures by keeping your cat away from areas where they're likely to encounter nasty ticks.
What are ticks?
Ticks are parasites that latch onto a cat's body. They have eight legs and egg-shaped bodies. Ticks are between 1mm-1cm; the bigger ones look like tiny spiders. Unlike fleas, ticks don't fly or jump from host to host. Instead, they climb or drop onto your cat.
Ticks are more common in wooded or rural areas, although you can also find them in your garden. Ticks are active throughout the year, but their numbers dramatically increase between spring and autumn.
Are ticks dangerous for cats?
Ticks bite through your cat's skin and feed off their blood. This can be extremely uncomfortable for your cat; it can also transmit bacterial infections as ticks often carry diseases, some of which can be very serious.
Some ticks carry a bacteria called Borrelia. If this gets into your cat, it's likely to cause Lyme disease. Symptoms include rashes, lethargy, loss of appetite, stiffness in the joints, and breathing difficulties. Lyme disease is treatable, but a prompt diagnosis is really important. If you catch it in the early stages, a short course of antibiotic will normally kill it off. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to health complications that can last for months, or even years.
Another potential health issue is anaemia. If the infestation is very heavy, your cat will be losing a lot of blood. Because the body struggles to replace what's lost, your cat will appear extremely lethargic.
Another disease that ticks carry is Ehrlichiosis. The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, swollen glands, lethargy, anorexia, swollen joints, and discharge from the eyes.
Other potential infections include ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and babesiosis. This sound pretty nasty, but they're exceptionally rare. Cases of babesiosis have only been found in the south of England, and these were in dogs.
What does a tick look like on a cat?
Some ticks are big enough to spot with the naked eye, while others will look like flecks of dirt or grime stuck in your cat's fur. Other people have described them as looking like tiny sunflower seeds. Smaller ticks can be easily overlooked, but there are other ways of identifying them. Ticks can latch onto any part of a cat's body, but they seem to prefer the areas around the neck, ears, feet, and cats head. So run your hand across your cat's body, paying particular attention to those areas. Any ticks or tick bites will feel like bumps or tiny swellings on your cat's skin.
How to remove the tick from a cat
You know what they look like; you know how to find them; now it's time to get those pesky blood suckling ticks off your cat. But removing ticks can be tricky. First of all, don't squeeze the tick. Squeezing can break the head and body apart, leaving the mouth part inside your cat. If this happens, it's likely to cause a nasty infection. Use a pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool to firmly grasp the tick.
You want to grab it at the point where its head meets the cat's skin, then twist or "unscrew" until the entire tick has been removed. Don’t pull the tick; it might break apart. Use a swab to clean up any gunk, then drop the tick into a bowl of hot water. Don't just dump them into an empty container or tissue. Ticks are persistent; they won't pass up a chance to reattach themselves to your cat.
What can I do to prevent ticks from getting on my cat?
Certain medications discourage ticks from latching onto your cat. You can buy sprays, tablets, or even shampoos from pet shops or online. Just remember to read the instructions carefully and contact a specialist for more advice. But whatever you do, NEVER use a tick treatment that's been designed for dogs. Some of the chemicals are extremely toxic for cats, and some of them can be fatal.
Cats are independent and curious creatures who need lots of outside time. This makes it difficult to reduce their exposure to ticks, especially if you live in rural areas. You don't want to turn your house into a kitty prison, but try and reduce their outside time during peak tick season
Ticks are relatively harmless, but only if you catch them early. If left alone, these greedy little parasites will keep feeding off your cat, leading to some very serious bacterial infections, including Lyme disease. This is why it’s really important to check your cat and safely remove ticks from your cat's skin. So make regular tick checks part of your pet's routine. Just give your cat a quick look once over very few days, and remove any ticks ASAP.